Thomas of Woodstock, 1st Duke of Gloucester, 1st Earl of Buckingham, 1st Earl of Essex, was born on 7 January 1355, the last born of King Edward III of England and Queen Philippa of Hainault’s 14 children. Thomas would be one lucky members of royal brood to live to adulthood, and was the youngest of the 5 surviving sons.
Thomas was 25 years younger than the heir to the throne, Edward, the Black Prince, and was only 12 years older than his nephew, King Richard II. Thomas was one of only two sons left alive when King Edward III died on 21 June 1377, and he was considered a threat to the new king’s throne when young Richard was crowned. He was thus kept marginalized in the new government, although he had been appointed Constable of the Realm by his late father.
In spite of the fact his nephew made him Duke of Aumale and Duke of Gloucester in 1385, Thomas was dissatisfied with his position at court. He felt displaced by King Richard’s favorites – men who were of lesser birth but held more power. Who was the king’s Chancellor, Michael de la Pole, the mere son of a knight, to give orders and take place of a royal prince? Did King Richard not understand his uncle should be more important than low-born lawyers like Robert Tresilian and jumped-up shop-keepers such as Nicholas Brembre?
In 1387, Gloucester formed a triumvirate of the Lords Appellant with Richard FitzAlan, Earl of Arundel and of Surrey and Thomas de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick. They went before parliament (later called the Wonderful Parliament) to accuse several of King Richard’s chief friends and councilors of treason, protesting the new levy of taxes and demanding the removal of the men they saw as leading the king astray. The king was not amused by their demands, and their dispute escalated into open rebellion.
The original Lords Appellant, now joined by Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Derby (the future King Henry IV), and Thomas de Mowbray, Earl of Nottingham, defeated King Richard’s forces on 20 December 1387, and forced the king to accept a Commission to govern England. They also headed the Merciless Parliament of 1388 that orchestrated the deaths of several of the king’s closest friends and allies.
Although King Richard would regain power and formally forgive his uncle, he would never forgive Gloucester’s insurrection against the crown and the murders of the men the king loved.
In July of 1397 King Richard was finally strong enough to get revenge on the uncle who betrayed him. He arrested the three original Lords Appellant for treason, and had Gloucester imprisoned by the duke’s former ally, de Mowbray, in Calais. There, Thomas of Woodstock was murdered without trial, almost certainly on the orders of King Richard.
In exchange for Gloucester’s murder, Thomas de Mowbray was created first Duke of Norfolk on 29 September 1397.
King Richard also took Gloucester’s only son, Humphrey, 2nd Earl of Buckingham, as hostage. Although the teen earl would be freed by his cousin, Henry of Bolingbroke, when Richard II was deposed, the sickly Humphrey would die on 2 September 1399. Gloucester’s line would thus continue only through his daughter, Anne of Gloucester, and her children … but their royal blood would bring them more grief than it was worth in the end.